Make no mistake, the latest Rob Ford fiasco won’t end quickly or quietly

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew

A mayor thrown from office, a council spinning in confusion and a city divided between celebrations of justice and fits of outrage at the province's justice system.

Did we expect anything else when we elected the controversial, outspoken and blustering Rob Ford as Mayor of Toronto two years ago?

The former Etobicoke city councillor with a knack of connecting to the Everyman, but a lack of understanding of the intricacies of running a city, was swept into office on the heels of a gravy train and swept out on Monday by a 24-page Ontario Superior Court ruling that found him guilty of breaching the conflict of interest act.

Justice Charles Hackland declared that Ford broke the public's trust when he voted and participated in a debate over whether he should be forced to pay back $3,150 in questionable donations he collected for a personal charity using city letterhead.

Hackland declared that Ford should be removed from office immediately, but placed a two-week administrative pause on the decision to allow city hall to sort the mess out.

And what a mess there is to sort out.

Ford has 30 days to launch an appeal on the ruling, which he has vowed to do. The appeal process could take as long as six months to work its way through court. And it remains undecided whether Ford could hold his position through the appeal process.

So while Ford was struck from office on Monday, don't expect for the city's fate to become crystal clear any time soon.

More on Ford:

His colleagues on council, however, will need to come up with a plan to move forward without Ford. Barring a successful appeal that keeps Ford in the position, it will be up to them to decide how he will be replaced.

The first option for a replacement is to appoint a caretaker mayor from among the 44-member chamber. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday is an obvious choice, and take the role until a permanent decision is made.

Giorgio Mammolitti left the mayor's executive committee in the wake of Ford's ouster, possibly distancing himself from Ford ahead of bid to replace him. The Globe and Mail reported that Mammolitti has not ruled out running for the spot.

The thought of selecting one of the left-leaning members has certainly been considered in some chambers. Shelly Carroll has been identified as a possible left-of-centre replacement. Josh Colle, a centrist, has also been raised as a possible candidate.

But with so many questions lingering, and a cadre of hearty Ford supporters echoing his claim that the whole affair is a liberal smear job, his opponents on council best tread carefully lest they poke a sleeping bear.

The actual political impact of the ruling will be based almost entirely on how the public reads the decision.

In other words, this is where spin happens.

The National Post's Kelly McParland says the thought of appointing a leftist mayor could re-awaken the convictions of those who elected Ford in the first place.

McParland writes:

It is hardly a desirable picture, but a left-wing resurgence may strike voters as no more appetizing now than it was two years ago. They may also be upset at the left's role in making council ungovernable, and the suspicion that the legal action against the mayor was simply another front in the left's ongoing effort to seize back what it lost at the ballot box.

Another option to replace Ford would be to hold a $7-million by-election to choose a permanent successor. In that case, anyone could run for mayor.

Names such as Olivia Chow and John Tory have been rumoured as possibilities, despite the former's assertion she has no plans to run and the latter's decision to sit out the last election.

A permanent replacement could also come in the form of a current councillor.  Ford's brother Doug could certainly take advantage of the outrage felt by those still residing in Ford Nation.

Denzil Minnan-Wong, a right-leaning councillor who led the opposition during David Miller's time as mayor, could be a conservative replacement not entirely tarnished by the past two years.

But even the timing of this decision is up in the air. Ford will remain in the mayor's seat for the next two weeks -- although a lamer duck of a mayor there has never been.

After that, it remains to be seen if Ford will be removed immediately or retain his seat pending an appeal. It is likely his lawyers will request Ford stay in office through the appeal. (It is also likely they will ask for the lengthy appeal process to be expedited.)

[ Related: Online clock counts down Ford's final days — to the second ]

Stephen D'Agostino, a municipal law expert, told CBC News that the answer to that may be based on how strong Ford's appeal bid actually is.

"If it looks like it's a pretty iffy appeal, the court might say, 'We'll hear the appeal but you're out [of office].' On the other hand, if it's controversial but looks like a good appeal, a court might be more cautious," D'Agostino told the network.

The fate of Ford's inevitable appeal remains a giant question mark above the entire proceedings. The National Post reports that should Ford be removed from office during the appeal process, council will need to decide on a replacement. That could come at the end of Hackland's two-week administrative pause, or at the next council meeting — in February. It would take about 60 days to either run a by-election or choose a replacement internally.

This could set up a dramatic "Game of Thrones"-type situation. If Ford is replaced but wins his appeal, he will presumably return to tear the chains of office from his stand-in and re-declare himself the one true King, er, Mayor of Toronto. A beheading in this instance is still very unlikely.

With the fate of Toronto City Hall so unclear, all we really know is this: Ford will remain mayor for 14 days. Unless he wins an appeal he will be replaced. Unless he has a change of heart, he will run again in 2014.

Until that election puts this permanently behind us, the question of what type of mayor Toronto deserves will be left to the pundits.

The Toronto Star's Christopher Hume says Toronto needs a mayor who "accepts complexity, who embraces it and grasps that it lies at the heart of a great civic enterprise like the city."

That sounds about right, although it seems Hume simply took his thoughts on Ford and turned them upside-down to come up with the sentiment.

For now, what Toronto needs is a vacation from unproductive drama at city hall, a leader who can communicate with council and, with them, make decisions that lead the city forward.

For now, Toronto needs a leader who will make municipal columnists pass out in sheer boredom, who will support the city's youth without using them as a shield against criticism. A mayor who knows the definition of bluster and the benefit of cooperation.

And Rob Ford, the whirling dervish who says he still wants to be mayor, needs to decide if he really wants the job, and decide what changes he can make to ensure we don't end up back here again.